The Alamo Community College District (ACCD) board voted 9-1 to pursue a $450 million bond. The issue will go before voters in May. The bond will not raise the district’s property tax rate if approved.
ACCD will go into the bond election with three colleges under sanctions with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Board Chair Yvonne Katz spoke in favor of delaying the vote until the Feb. 17 board meeting, the latest possible opportunity to get the issue on the May ballot.
“I just have this gut feeling that we need to get a little more information about the time frame with SACSCOC,” Katz said. The colleges’ have requested an expedited reaffirmation process that could lift the sanctions as early as June. Knowing that this was underway could increase public confidence.
Trustee Jim Rindfuss, the dissenting vote, felt that the issue would be a nonstarter with taxpayers who want to see the accreditation issues resolved completely, which would bypass the May ballot.
“I would rather be successful,” Rindfuss said. “These bond issues cost a lot of money.”
Board members Roberto Zarate, Denver McClendon, and Gene Sprague expressed confidence that the community will see the efforts and progress the board has made in resolving the issues thus far and vote in favor of the bond.
Ahead of the vote, Alamo College Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Diane Snyder presented the revised Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which reflected significant input from the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee (CBAC). After reviewing the initial budget, the CBAC submitted a plan to significantly increase funds to older campuses near the city center, primarily St. Philip’s College.
St. Philips has several buildings that will have to be razed, while others are in dire need of significant mold remediation.
The CBAC recommendations moved money away from expansion efforts on the city’s Northside and reduced the extent of the expansion at Northeast Lakeview College. The board also expressed concern over plans to purchase land for a new Northside campus along the U.S. Hwy. 281 North corridor.
Improvements to the Alamo Colleges are based on a projected student population of 120,980 in the year 2030. Much of that growth is projected for the Northside of San Antonio.
“This is not a stable or declining base. This is a reasonably fast-growing base,” Chancellor Bruce Leslie said. “We’re pretty comfortable with where we are and where are going.”
The bond will be issued in three phases of $150 million. This will allow for greater flexibility with contingent projects (i.e. demolition that must precede construction). The smaller pieces will also keep the bond from raising the tax rate. The schedule will divide the projects into three phases as well.
The first projects will begin at the end of 2017. They include $30 million each for facilities at Palo Alto and St. Philip’s colleges, $26 million for a parking garage and welcome center at Northwest Vista College, and $20 million for a parking garage and childcare center at San Antonio College.
Westside and Southside Regional Education and Training Centers (WETC and SETC) are slated to receive $23 million each. The SETC would see construction of a new building to parallel its appearance and offerings with those of the Westside and Eastside centers. A redundant district-wide dispatch center for safety and security would receive $3 million and Phase 1 of information technology infrastructure improvements. The land acquisition plan for Palo Alto and a new campus along 281 North would receive $11 million.
All but the land acquisition and the SETC project reflect priorities of the CBAC. In order to include those projects, the Bowden Building at St. Philips was moved to the final phase of the bond, set to begin in 2021.
Surplus will go to restoring reduced square footage at Northeast Lakeview.
Trustee Denver McClendon expressed concerns that suggested changes would frustrate the community.
“We have a responsibility to our constituents and we need to speak up. If we don’t the bond is not going to pass,” McClendon said.
Similar concerns were raised over the size of the SETC building, which might not be as large as the CBAC recommended. Board members said they are confident that at 40,000 sq. ft. of new construction, the SETC will be able to meet all its students’ needs.
Zarate reminded the board of the need to promote the bond with a unified voice and explain the need and value of the projects.
“We’re not the only ones on the ballot in May,” Zarate said.
If something unforeseen arises in the next month, the board can vote to pull the bond at its Feb. 17 meeting.